By Tim Hayes
Gosh, we really thought this idea would work. Ah, to be young and foolish and fearless again.
We – meaning my fellow members of a corporate communications team and I – had somehow convinced a regional executive to don a hockey sweater and gloves, grab a hockey stick, and slap-shot a puck into a hockey net, all while on stage in front of about 200 employees as part of an annual sales rally.
This borderline-screwball idea flowed from the theme of the event, “Make the Goal!” – one of those trite, forced-enthusiastic clichés so common across corporate America.
Our executive, a very nice older gentleman who relished one-to-one connections but who disdained speaking to larger crowds, agreed to this particular piece of performance art based on pressure from the C-suite to boost sales in his region. Otherwise, our proposal would never have stood a snowball’s chance in Hell.
But agree he did, so it was Game On.
The day before the event, as our Corp Comm team worked on setting up the ballroom, testing equipment, making final tweaks to speeches and materials, the regional executive came by at the appointed time to rehearse. He practiced his speech, using the teleprompters stationed along the foot of the stage. So far, so good.
Then came the clincher. The real stemwinder. The big payoff of his presentation. The moment when 200 jaded salespeople would shake loose the shackles of their cynicism and burst out of the doors alive with the fire of increasing sales. And all based on the regional executive shooting the puck the length of the stage into the waiting net.
But he needed to get his bearings, line up his mojo, find his touch to make the shot. So he wound up, swung the stick, and sent the first puck into the fifth row. Hmmm. The lawyers might not like the liability issues that presented. We teed the puck up again, and this time he missed the damn thing completely. Becoming irritated with himself and embarrassed at his lack of athletic prowess, he took another shot and clanged the puck off of his ankle.
This obviously was not panning out the way we had foreseen. Our executive, red in the face and with a swiftly swelling ankle, threatened to throw all of this hockey nonsense into the trash, along with all of our careers.
Then someone in our Corp Comm cohort had a blaze of inspiration, a stroke of genius. Or so we all thought.
The A/V guys on our team rigged up a system whereby a thin piece of clear fishing line was taped onto one edge of the puck. Standing off in the wings of the stage, one of those crew members would wait until the exec took his shot with the hockey stick, then yank the fishing line, thereby pulling the puck straight into the net. Talk about your risk management! The engineering that went into this astounds me today, decades later. A guaranteed goal, every time, right? Yeah, right.
Ever heard of “chaos theory?” Well, we saw it in action the next day. Up close and personal. In living color. And in front of 200 witnesses.
At the event, our executive finished his formal remarks just fine, then slipped on the hockey jersey and picked up the stick. Because he had been so anxious about being in front of all those people, his hands had become sweaty. Because he was so relieved to almost be finished, he forgot to put on the hockey gloves. Hilarity was about to ensue.
He grabbed the stick, lined up the shot, swung the stick back – and felt it slide right out of his slippery hands. Backwards! Behind him! Clanking loudly and unmistakably onto the wooden floor of the stage. Just as the crew guy offstage on the other side tugged the fishing line and sent the puck into the goal. A puck that sped some 30 feet without ever being touched.
The laws of physics blown to smithereens at a corporate sales rally!
Lucky for us, this gentleman also had a healthy sense of humor and wasn’t above laughing at himself – which, in this case, meant joining in with the laughter of everyone else in the room. He walked back to the microphone on the podium and said, “See? If I can ‘make the goal,’ even with this ridiculous display, so can you. So let’s go get ‘em!” That self-deprecating recovery did more to inspire those salespeople than our rigged-up, half-baked, contrived bit of stagecraft ever could.
Moral of the story? Be yourself. Nobody else wants the job anyway, because no one else can do it as good or as convincingly as you.
Copyright 2017 Timothy P. Hayes